Do you get the picture?

One of the more interesting facts about our News Centre is the impact photography is having on the readership levels. If we look at the statistics of our old press releases vs our News Centre stories we can see a big increase in visits. It’s difficult to quantify precisely how much of an impact the addition of a photograph has had, obviously, but we can certainly infer that it has helped.

Each story has to have at least one photo assigned to it and these photos appear as thumbnails against each headline or even as a large feature image if the story is significant or high profile. From just a visual appeal perspective it has made our news stories far more interesting and engaging.

The need for photos for our stories is also a bit of a challenge though. We do have an extensive photo library on Flickr, of which the press office make regular use. However, from time to time it will be necessary to take photos deliberately for particular stories as stock photography just won’t do.

We recently purchased a digital SLR for the Communications team to make use of, for both video and photography. It was important to have some kit available to the press office or comms officers for those times when a dedicated photographer is not available. Technology is only one part of the puzzle, however. We also need to ensure the people taking the photos know what they’re doing.

What skills do we need for this? One part is clearly knowledge of how to use the camera, but seeing as the majority of staff using the kit will not be experienced photographers we have simply recommended they put the camera into Auto mode if they’re unsure. The technology is clever enough to make sure you get something of sufficient quality, from an exposure point of view, to be usable for us.

The main problem then, after taking the technology into account, is the actual practice of taking a photograph. Having worked at the Council for more than 13 years and having worked with a range of people who provide us with photos they have taken for different projects, we routinely see the same issues affecting these photos. It is common to see motion blur, photos that are too dark or too bright, badly framed shots cutting off key detail and more. If we are to make use of photographs taken by our new ‘social reporters’ then we obviously need to make sure the photos are of sufficient quality, not just from a technical perspective, but also an aesthetic one.

As part of the Social Media Forum that was recently held at County Hall I was asked to run an informal workshop on photography. Initially, I was unsure of which route to take. Did I want to go down the discussion of sharing photos in the social space or did I want to go down the tutorial route and explain some simple basics that would help anyone to take better photos, regardless of the equipment they might be using?

After fumbling around in the first session for something interesting to talk about, I decided to just ask people what they wanted to get out of the session instead. The majority just wanted to know how to take better photos. ‘Better’ is sometimes a bit of a subjective thing, but it was clear in these sessions that people just wanted to know some quick and easy basics to take home with them and make use of right away.

So, here are my quick and dirty tips for point and shoot photographers on how to take ‘better’ photos:

The Rule of Thirds

When you look through the viewfinder/at the screen of your camera/phone imagine the picture being divided into thirds, horizontally and vertically. Where the intersections of the dividing lines meet is where you should consider placing your subject:

rule of thirds grid

Examples:

The examples were taken for the sole purpose of highlighting the difference between the use and non-use of the rule of thirds. Here are a couple of real world examples from my Flickr account:

Stephandsom PrayerExmouth Kitesurfer

Leading Lines

Many times it also helps to have something to lead the eye into the image, particularly in the case of wider angle photos. This can be a fence, a road, path, power lines or anything that leads to the subject of the photo. Combined with Rule of Thirds this can help your composition even more:

Welsh RailwayDurdle Door

Orientation

A simple, but effective adjustment that you can make is consider the orientation of your photograph. Many people use the camera the way it is, with the shutter button at the top. Switching the camera onto its side can help to focus attention to the subject or field of view you want to shoot, eliminating unnecessary details:

LandscapePortrait

Colour vs black and white

Often your shots may lack interest, despite your best efforts. Taking the example of the corridor above, it’s clearly not a very interesting photograph. However, switching it to black and white gives it a completely different feel:

Portraitblack and white

If anyone should like to download a copy of the original tips I used at the Social Media Forum, you can do so here – [download id=”1″]

Obviously, there is a lot more to taking ‘good’ photographs than what I have outlined above. However, these simple, basic tips are a good starting point for anyone wanting to make better use of their cameras, whether it’s a mobile phone, a compact camera or a full-blown digital SLR. If nothing else, these tips should make people think twice before they hit the shutter button and actually consider what they are taking a picture for in the first place!

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